6 August 2021
Vityaz Moscow Region 4 Kunlun Red Star 3 SO
The Dragons are back on the ice! Game one of the pre-season schedule saw our guys make the short journey to Podolsk to face Vityaz. As a first test for the team this season, it was a good choice of opponent. Not only is Vityaz something of a local rival these days, as we continue at our base in Moscow Region, this is also a team typically on the cusp of a playoff place in the Western Conference and thus a close equivalent to our position in the east. However, it was a game too early for newly-appointed head coach Ivano Zanatta, who is still completing the formalities of his move to us. As a result, Alexei Kovalev took charge as acting head coach for today’s game.
Our roster had plenty of familiar names who have rejoined the team over the summer, plus a smattering of trialists. Maxim Nazarov, a 21-year-old Russian forward, is looking to break into adult hockey. He played junior league in Mytishchi and could add useful depth if he can prove his worth in the summer. Meanwhile, Wei Zhong got his first game in a Red Star jersey. This Beijing-born forward is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s NCAA program and, at the age of 23, has represented his country at U18 level as well as appearing in the 2018 Division IIA campaign for the men’s team. Zhong, also known as Peter, could cement himself as part of the long-term future of Chinese hockey if he can earn himself a role on one of our teams this season.
Among the players returning to the team, Brandon Yip is perhaps the most exciting. Our record scorer and long-serving captain wasted little time in reminding everyone why he’s such a big figure for the Dragons. It took just 26 seconds for him to create the opening goal, going behind the net to win the puck from an opposing defenseman and get a pass onto the dot for Josh Nicholls to rifle home our first of the pre-season.
However, Vityaz hit back to take a lead into the first intermission. Vyacheslav Leshchenko, who played for Red Star last season, was quick to say hello to his former colleagues with a tying goal after 15 minutes, then Miro Aaltonen made it 2-1 in the 19th.
At the start of the second, the Dragons roared back into the game with the Foo brothers to the fore. First, Spencer started and finished a move to tie the scores, getting the puck in his own zone and surging down the right before setting up Parker. The shot was blocked, but Spencer was following up smartly and potted the rebound from Ilya Ezhov’s save. Then Spencer struck again a couple of minutes later and this time he did it all himself. He harried Aaltonen into an error, stole the puck and extracted maximum punishment with a shot to the top shelf. Spencer also had time to indulge in a bit of a dust-up with Igor Golovkov – no such thing as a ‘friendly’ in hockey – late in the frame, not long after the home team had tied the scores through Daniil Zinoviev.
There was no further scoring in the third period and the game went to overtime. Vityaz almost won it in the opening seconds of the extras, but Jeremy Smith came up with a huge stop to deny Niko Ojamaki when the Finnish forward broke clear of our defenses. At the other end, Spencer Foo had a great chance to give the Dragons the verdict when a quick turnaround created an odd man rush that had Vityaz scrambling to cover. However, he was unable to add to his two earlier goals and fired wide of the target. Ryan Sproul also came close to winning it in overtime, but there was to be no further scoring until the shoot-out.
In that shoot-out, Spencer added to his tally with some impressive stickhandling to bamboozle Ezhov before back-handing the puck to the top shelf. But Vityaz responded to win it thanks to successful attempts from Ojamaki and Miks Indrasis.
There’s no time to brood over that disappointment. The teams meet again tomorrow, giving a chance for an immediate response from our guys.